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It’s almost too sad to fathom:

A player who abandons his hardscrabble neighborhood for the serenity of small-town life is a victim of senseless violence, killed in cold blood.

A player who relies on his teammates on the field of play takes his last gasps of breath in the arms of a teammate who is powerless to save him.

A father-to-be with NFL dreams, a young man with hopes of supporting his mom and two sisters, is cut down celebrating a homecoming victory.

Jasper Howard, a junior cornerback from the University of Connecticut, who was the first in his family to attend college, was a victim of this harsh reality.

Howard was stabbed to death early Sunday morning outside the student union in Storrs, Conn., while attending a university-sponsored dance, just hours after he had starred in a 38-25 win over Louisville.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” said his uncle, Deon Smith, 44, of Miami. “His life got cut off too short for somebody that never got into trouble. He did all of the right things in life. He was a straight-A student. No one could believe what happened.”

UConn Football Player Stabbed To Death, [Updated, 10.19.09 at 12:20 p.m.]

STORRS, Conn. — Less than 12 hours after celebrating his team’s homecoming victory over Louisville, Connecticut football coach Randy Edsall was at a hospital identifying the body of one of the game’s star players.

The day after Jasper Howard, 20, of Miami, was stabbed to death in a fight following an on-campus, university sanctioned dance, police Monday continued to interview those attending the dance in search for possible witnesses. Investigators had not identified a suspect or released the name of a second stabbing victim, who was treated and released from a local hospital.

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Edsall said he and the team were heartbroken and devastated over the loss of Howard, a junior and the team’s starting cornerback who came to the school to get away from the violence on the streets of his hometown. He was the first person in his family to go to college.

“I know Jasper loved the University of Connecticut and he loved his teammates,” Edsall said. “And he loved the opportunity he was getting here at UConn.”

UConn Police Major Ronald Blicher said this is the first homicide at the university in the more than 30 years he has been associated with the school.

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Blicher said Howard was stabbed during a fight between two groups that included students and non-students. The altercation broke out just after a fire alarm went off in the student center, forcing around 300 people to evacuate from a party and dance sponsored by the school’s West Indian Awareness Organization.

Authorities wouldn’t say if any other athletes were involved.

Police cordoned off the crime scene near the university’s Gampel Pavilion basketball arena for much of the day.

“Certainly not all 300 saw this event,” Blicher said. “We have been actively interviewing people through the night and day, and we continue to seek anybody who might have information.”

Police were trying to determine if the alarm and the fight were related. About 40 university and state police officers were working on the case. The university community was sent messages warning them to be cautious, but Blicher said officials don’t believe anyone else is in danger and that the stabbing did not appear premeditated.

“The university does not have an individual walking around just stabbing people,” Blicher said.

Howard’s death was especially tragic, because he was about to become a father, Edsall said. Neither police nor the university provided any additional information about the expectant mother, whom Edsall identified as Howard’s girlfriend.

The coach gathered his team at its training facility at 6 a.m. to deliver the news.

“As Jazz looks down on us, I can promise him and his family, that son or daughter will have 105 uncles,” punter Desi Cullen, a team captain, said at a Sunday afternoon news conference.

Howard and the other student who was stabbed were taken to Windham Community Memorial Hospital, where the surviving student was treated and released. Howard was later airlifted to Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, where he died.

Edsall drove to the hospital Sunday morning and was asked to identify Howard’s body.

Howard had a career-high 11 tackles Saturday and made perhaps the game’s biggest play, forcing a fumble as Louisville was about to score with UConn up 21-13 in the third quarter.

“I felt my hand go on the ball and I felt that I had a chance to get it out,” he said after the game. “I just stripped it out. It was a big play. We needed it.”

UConn won 38-25.

Corey Bell, the director of football operations at the University of Miami who coached Howard at Miami Edison High School, told The Miami-Herald Sunday that he was stunned when he heard about the killing.

“I’m real close to all my guys, but Jazz and I were real close,” Bell said. “We spoke at least once every week. He’s a great kid, coachable, dependable, real tough mentally and talented. He had dreams of getting to the next level and making it and taking care of his mom and his sister.”

The University of Miami’s media relations office did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages from The Associated Press Sunday.

UConn was arranging for Howard’s parents to come to Connecticut. He also had two teenage sisters.

Edsall said the team will not practice until Tuesday, but plans to play next Saturday at West Virginia. He said they would wear some remembrance of Howard, and would plan a more permanent memorial at the team’s training center.

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